Coalitions? Who’s Afraid of Coalitions?

Fear Mongering, the Constitution and the Common Good

by Brian Walsh

Traveling through four provinces over the last couple of days from Toronto to Halifax, I started to feel like the candidates in this election with their grueling travel schedule.

As we moved through Quebec, the sea of orange was clear for all to see. NDP signs and Jack Layton’s picture are ubiquitous. Indeed, yesterday Layton’s face was on the front page of two French language papers. That’s something new.

This occasions some further reflection on the “C” word. No, not “Conservative” (what exactly are they “conserving” that is of real worth in our culture?), but the dreaded specter of “Coalition.”

It’s amazing how easily Stephen Harper manipulated Michael Ignatieff into making a “No Coalition” declaration within days of the election being called. Not only was it disappointing that Ignatieff fell for the trick, but also how Harper’s move was both an act of deceitfulness and in profound constitutional error.

The deceit is clear, and sadly, unsurprising. Harper did indeed consult with the Bloc and the NDP when the Liberals had a minority under the leadership of Paul Martin. As both Layton and Duceppe made clear during the English language debate, that consultation and the letter delivered to the Governor General at that time was nothing less than a ‘coalition’.

The truth has never been Harper’s forté.

What’s worse is that Harper has deliberately attempted to confuse the population about how a constitutional parliamentary democracy works. But what’s surprising about that? This is, after all, the first Prime Minister in the tradition of Westminster whose government has been found in contempt of Parliament. So fudging the truth about how Parliament works is par for the course.

Now most folks don’t need a lesson in civics from me, except perhaps Mr. Harper and those who follow him. And this exercise called “Jesus for Prime Minister” has decidedly not been a partisan call for a Liberal or NDP or government. No, we are a diverse lot at Empire Remixed in terms of who we will be voting for. What we have been about is trying to shape and encourage an alternative political imagination.

The thing is, this is an imagination that needs to be played out in real political and historical circumstances. Living out of the vision of Jesus, as citizens of the Kingdom while also citizens of a parliamentary democracy will be different in various ways from living in a dictatorship, a republican system or any other political structure.

So let’s be clear about our system. The party with the most seats does not automatically rule!

Let’s repeat that,

The party with the most seats does not automatically rule!

Rather, to form a government in a parliamentary democracy requires the ‘Confidence of the House.’ If a party has the majority number of seats in the House, then becoming the government is guaranteed. If, however, a party does not have the majority of seats, then we are in a minority government situation. In such a case, some party, or some coalition of parties must gain the confidence of the House in order to form the government.

The party with the most seats gets the first opportunity to form a government.

Mr. Harper wants you to believe that the party with the most seats rules. That’s simply not true!

The party with the confidence of the House forms a government.

If the Conservatives get a minority of seats, but cannot secure the confidence of the House, then some other party or coalition of parties, or agreement between parties that is not a coalition per se, forms a government.

This whole thing scares the willies out of Stephen Harper. It’s a threat to national security, to our democracy and (most importantly for Harper) to our economic recovery!

Truth is, all of this is a threat to the continued tenure of Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister of Canada. That’s all that’s in jeopardy here.

Moreover, the truth is that not only are Coalition governments common throughout the world, they are also not unheard of in Canadian politics. More importantly, a coalition government is fully permissible within the constitution of Canada.

And they are more democratic than a minority government ruling as if it had a majority. Heck, they can even be more democratic than many majority government situations where the party with the most seats still does not represent the majority of the population.

So let’s call Harper’s coalition rhetoric for the unethical, unconstitutional and untrue fear mongering that it is.

And let’s hope for another minority government. But this time a minority government that will work because it will be based upon cooperation amongst parties for the sake of the common good.

That would be something even more radically new than the NDP making a major step forward in this election.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

One Response to “Coalitions? Who’s Afraid of Coalitions?”

  1. Mathieu Sainson-Hart

    If by any chance you pass through Sherbrooke, Qc, let me know.

    Mathieu Sainson-Hart


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